Copper plays a key role in the development of healthy nerves, bones, collagen and the skin pigment melanin. Normally, copper is absorbed from your food, and any excess is excreted through bile — a substance produced in your liver.
Normal absorption and distribution of copper. Cu = copper, CP = ceruloplasmin, green = ATP7B carrying copper.
But in people with Wilson’s disease, copper isn’t eliminated properly and instead accumulates, possibly to a life-threatening level. Left untreated, Wilson’s disease is fatal. When diagnosed early, Wilson’s disease is treatable, and many people with the disorder live normal lives.
The excess copper can build up in the liver and/or brain causing liver damage and/or neurological problems. It can also collect in other parts of the body including the eyes and the kidneys.
Copper begins to accumulate immediately after birth but the symptoms usually appear in the 2nd to 3rd decade. The first signs are hepatic (liver) in about 40% of cases, neurological (brain) in about 35% of cases and psychiatric, renal (kidney), haematological (blood), or endocrine (glands) in the remainder.
The condition is due to mutations in the Wilson disease protein (ATP7B) gene. A single abnormal copy of the gene is present in 1 in 100 people, who do not develop any symptoms (they are carriers). If a child inherits the gene from both parents, they may develop Wilson’s disease. Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 6 and 20 years, but cases in much older people have been described. Wilson’s disease occurs in 1 to 4 per 100,000 people. Wilson’s disease is named after Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878–1937), the British neurologist who first described the condition in 1912
The most pathognomonic sign of Wilson’s disease results from a buildup of copper in the eyes. These rings are
called Kayser – Fleischer rings. Rings are brownish, visible aroound the corneo – scleral junction (limbus).
95% of Wilson’ s disease patients presenting with neurological signs will have Kayser – Fleischer rings and 65% of Wilson’s disease patients presenting with hepatic signs will present a ring.
Wilson’s disease causes a wide variety of signs and symptoms that are often mistaken for other diseases and conditions. Signs and symptoms vary depending on what parts of your body are affected by Wilson’s disease.
Signs and symptoms of Wilson’s disease include:
*Loss of appetite
*Swelling of arms and legs
*Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
The main sites of copper accumulation are the liver and the brain, and consequently liver disease and neuropsychiatric symptoms are the main features that lead to diagnosis. People with liver problems tend to come to medical attention earlier, generally as children or teenagers, than those with neurological and psychiatric symptoms, who tend to be in their twenties or older. Some are identified only because relatives have been diagnosed with Wilson’s disease; many of these, when tested, turn out to have been experiencing symptoms of the condition but haven’t received a diagnosis.:
Wilson’s disease occurs when a genetic mutation leads to an accumulation of copper in one’s body.
How the genetic mutation occurs
The genetic mutation that causes Wilson’s disease is most commonly passed from one generation to the next. Wilson’s disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, which means that to develop the disease you must inherit two copies of the defective gene, one from each parent. If you receive only one abnormal gene, you won’t become ill yourself, but you’re considered a carrier and can pass the gene to your children.
How the genetic mutation causes Wilson’s disease
The mutation that causes Wilson’s disease occurs in a gene called ATP7B. When a mutation occurs on this gene, it leads to problems with a protein that’s responsible for moving excess copper out of your liver.
Your body collects copper from the food you eat during the digestive process. The copper is transported to your liver where liver cells use it for everyday tasks. Most people eat more copper than they need. In these cases, the liver takes what it needs and excretes the rest in bile, a digestive juice made by the liver.
But in people with Wilson’s disease, the extra copper doesn’t leave your body. Instead, copper builds up in the liver, where it can cause serious and sometimes irreversible damage. In time, excess copper leaves the liver and begins accumulating in and harming other organs, especially the brain, eyes and kidneys.
Wilson’s disease can cause serious complications such as:
*Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). As liver cells try to make repairs to damage done by excess copper, scar tissue forms in the liver. The scar tissue makes it more difficult for the liver to function.
*Liver failure. Liver failure can occur suddenly (acute liver failure), or it can develop slowly over many years. If liver function progresses, a liver transplant may be a treatment option.
*Liver cancer. Damage to the liver caused by Wilson’s disease may increase the risk of liver cancer.
*Persistent neurological problems. Neurological problems usually improve with treatment for Wilson’s disease. However, some people may experience persistent neurological difficulty, despite treatment.
*Kidney problems. Wilson’s disease can damage the kidneys, leading to kidney problems, such as kidney stones and an abnormal number of amino acids excreted in the urine (aminoaciduria).
Wilson’s disease may be suspected on the basis of any of the symptoms mentioned above, or when a close relative has been found to have Wilson’s. Most have slightly abnormal liver function tests such as a raised aspartate transaminase, alanine transaminase and bilirubin level. If the liver damage is significant, albumin may be decreased due to an inability of damaged liver cells to produce this protein; likewise, the prothrombin time (a test of coagulation) may be prolonged as the liver is unable to produce proteins known as clotting factors. Alkaline phosphatase levels are relatively low in those with Wilson’s-related acute liver failure. If there are neurological symptoms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain is usually performed; this shows hyperintensities in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia in the T2 setting. MRI may also demonstrate the characteristic “face of the giant panda” pattern.
There is no totally reliable test for Wilson’s disease, but levels of ceruloplasmin and copper in the blood, as well of the amount of copper excreted in urine during a 24-hour period, are together used to form an impression of the amount of copper in the body. The gold standard or most ideal test is a liver biopsy
Levels of ceruloplasmin are abnormally low (<0.2 g/L) in 80–95% of cases. It can, however, be present at normal levels in people with ongoing inflammation as it is an acute phase protein. Low ceruloplasmin is also found in Menkes disease and aceruloplasminemia, which are related to, but much rarer than Wilson’s disease.
The combination of neurological symptoms, Kayser–Fleisher rings and a low ceruloplasmin level is considered sufficient for the diagnosis of Wilson’s disease. In many cases, however, further tests are needed.
Serum and urine copper
Serum copper is paradoxically low but urine copper is elevated in Wilson’s disease. Urine is collected for 24 hours in a bottle with a copper-free liner. Levels above 100 ?g/24h (1.6 ?mol/24h) confirm Wilson’s disease, and levels above 40 ?g/24h (0.6 ?mol/24h) are strongly indicative. High urine copper levels are not unique to Wilson’s disease; they are sometimes observed in autoimmune hepatitis and in cholestasis (any disease obstructing the flow of bile from the liver to the small bowel).
In children, the penicillamine test may be used. A 500 mg oral dose of penicillamine is administered, and urine collected for 24 hours. If this contains more than 1600 ?g (25 ?mol), it is a reliable indicator of Wilson’s disease. This test has not been validated in adults.
Once other investigations have indicated Wilson’s disease, the ideal test is the removal of a small amount of liver tissue through a liver biopsy. This is assessed microscopically for the degree of steatosis and cirrhosis, and histochemistry and quantification of copper are used to measure the severity of the copper accumulation. A level of 250 ?g of copper per gram of dried liver tissue confirms Wilson’s disease. Occasionally, lower levels of copper are found; in that case, the combination of the biopsy findings with all other tests could still lead to a formal diagnosis of Wilson’s.
In the earlier stages of the disease, the biopsy typically shows steatosis (deposition of fatty material), increased glycogen in the nucleus, and areas of necrosis (cell death). In more advanced disease, the changes observed are quite similar to those seen in autoimmune hepatitis, such as infiltration by inflammatory cells, piecemeal necrosis and fibrosis (scar tissue). In advanced disease, finally, cirrhosis is the main finding. In acute liver failure, degeneration of the liver cells and collapse of the liver tissue architecture is seen, typically on a background of cirrhotic changes. Histochemical methods for detecting copper are inconsistent and unreliable, and taken alone are regarded as insufficient to establish a diagnosis.
Mutation analysis of the ATP7B gene, as well as other genes linked to copper accumulation in the liver, may be performed. Once a mutation is confirmed, it is possible to screen family members for the disease as part of clinical genetics family counselling
DietaryIn general, a diet low in copper-containing foods is recommended, with the avoidance of mushrooms, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, liver, and shellfish.
Various treatments are available for Wilson’s disease. Some increase the removal of copper from the body, while others prevent the absorption of copper from the diet.
Generally, penicillamine is the first treatment used. This binds copper (chelation) and leads to excretion of copper in the urine. Hence, monitoring of the amount of copper in the urine can be done to ensure a sufficiently high dose is taken. Penicillamine is not without problems: about 20% experience a side effect or complication of penicillamine treatment, such as drug-induced lupus (causing joint pains and a skin rash) or myasthenia (a nerve condition leading to muscle weakness). In those who presented with neurological symptoms, almost half experience a paradoxical worsening in their symptoms. While this phenomenon is also observed in other treatments for Wilson’s, it is usually taken as an indication for discontinuing penicillamine and commencing second-line treatment. Intolerant to penicillamine may instead be commenced on trientine hydrochloride, which also has chelating properties. Some recommend trientine as first-line treatment, but experience with penicillamine is more extensive. A further agent with known activity in Wilson’s disease is tetrathiomolybdate. This is still regarded as experimental, although some studies have shown a beneficial effect.
Once all results have returned to normal, zinc (usually in the form of a zinc acetate prescription called Galzin) may be used instead of chelators to maintain stable copper levels in the body. Zinc stimulates metallothionein, a protein in gut cells that binds copper and prevents their absorption and transport to the liver. Zinc therapy is continued unless symptoms recur, or if the urinary excretion of copper increases.
In rare cases where none of the oral treatments are effective, especially in severe neurological disease, dimercaprol (British anti-Lewisite) is still occasionally necessary. This treatment is injected intramuscularly (into a muscle) every few weeks, and has a number of unpleasant side effects such as pain.
People who are asymptomatic (for instance those diagnosed through family screening or only as a result of abnormal test results) are generally treated, as the copper accumulation may cause long-term damage in the future. It is unclear whether these people are best treated with penicillamine or zinc acetate.
Physiotherapy is beneficial for those patients with the neurologic form of the disease. The copper chelating treatment may take up to six months to start working, and physical therapy can assist in coping with ataxia, dystonia, and tremors, as well as preventing the development of contractures that can result from dystonia.
Liver transplantation is an effective cure for Wilson’s disease, but is used only in particular scenarios because of the numerous risks and complications associated with the procedure. It is used mainly in people with fulminant liver failure who fail to respond to medical treatment, or in those with advanced chronic liver disease. Liver transplantation is avoided in severe neuropsychiatric illness, in which its benefit has not been demonstrated
Lifestyle and home remedies:
Doctors sometimes recommend limiting the amount of copper you consume in your diet during the first year of your treatment for Wilson’s disease. As your signs and symptoms recede and the copper levels in your body drop, you may be able to include copper-containing foods in your diet.
Foods that contain high levels of copper include:
*Copper-containing vitamin and mineral supplements
*Dried peas, beans and lentils
Copper in tap water
Have your tap water’s copper levels tested if you have copper pipes in your home or if your water comes from a well. Most municipal water systems don’t contain high levels of copper.
If you have copper pipes, run the tap for several seconds before collecting water for drinking or cooking. Water that sits in the copper pipes can pick up copper particles. Running the water flushes that contaminated water out of the pipes.
Copper pots and pans
Don’t use copper pots, pans or storage containers for your food or drinks.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose
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